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Sanya Richards adds 200 meters to racing program

21 June 2007

By Robert Falkoff

For Sanya Richards, it's a privilege -- not a burden -- to be the golden girl of U.S. women's track and field these days.

When the product is advertised, Richards is usually front and center, giving back to the sport that has given so much to her. See Sanya and see all that is good about a sport that is coming back into full focus with the Beijing Olympics just 18 months away.

"I've always wanted to be the new Marion Jones of the sport or the face of track and field," said Richards, the two-time defending U.S. champion in the 400 meters. "I'm just excited that I have the opportunity. I take it as a huge responsibility to make the right decisions, to compete at my best, to train as hard as I can and be a great ambassador for the sport."

Richards, 22, is in Indianapolis this week and looking to double her pleasure at the AT&T USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Besides taking on the task of defending her title in the 400 against a talented group of U.S. competitors, Richards will double in the 200 with an eye toward taking that double-dash route at the Beijing Olympics.

If she proves she can handle the 200 without sacrificing anything in the 400, it will only add to Richards' growing star power. The former University of Texas standout was undefeated in the outdoor 400 last year and set an American record at 48.70. She's the reigning IAAF World Athlete of the Year and Jesse Owens Award winner as the nation's top track athlete.

Richards firmly believes she's ready to branch out and become a multiple-event individual champion.

"I've always considered myself a sprinter," Richards said. "Just running the 400 was tough."

When Richards aligned herself with coach Clyde Hart a few years back, the initial focus was on making her the best 400 runner in the world. Mission accomplished. Now, the challenge is to add something more to the mix.

"I've gotten really comfortable with my strategy," Richards said. "I'm so much stronger now that I've been part of the program for three years. We both think, along with my manager, that it will be great for me to start to double now so that I'll be prepared for the Olympic Games. I think the Olympic schedule will allow for me to run the 200 and the 400."

Richards isn't sure whether the schedule at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, will be conducive to running both events, but she's leaving open the possibility it could happen there as well.

The new Marion Jones? On your mark, get set, go.

In the 400 this weekend, Richards will attempt to fight off seasoned competitors like Dee Dee Trotter and Monique Henderson, as well as rising sprinter Natasha Hastings from the University of South Carolina, who has flourished recently after battling back from a series of injuries.

"Natasha Hastings is no secret to me," Richards said. "I competed against her in high school and actually broke the high school record with her right on my tail. I'm happy that she has finally found her stride in college."

The 200 will also feature a select field highlighted by Allyson Felix and Lauryn Williams. Felix has already run 22.18 this season.

The tougher the challenges, the better Richards seems to respond. In that regard, she's a lot like her boyfriend Aaron Ross, who rose to football prominence as a cornerback with the Texas Longhorns and became a first-round draft pick of the New York Giants in April.

"We always motivate each other," Richards said. "He's so encouraging and understanding. He's my No. 1 fan."

Richards and Ross work out together when their schedules allow and are conscientious about maintaining athletes' diets.

"We know the world of sports is a short window and a short opportunity, so we try to take full advantage," Richards said.

Ross will be in the stands in Indianapolis this weekend, hoping to see Richards pull off the 400-200 double.

Although she was literally stuck in the starting blocks early in the outdoor season because of illness that forced her to miss several meets in which she had planned to compete, Richards chooses to look at that development as a blessing in disguise. She talks enthusiastically about having fresh legs that could propel her in the 400-200 quest.

"When I first got sick, it was during flu season," Richards recalled. "I thought I was having a little cold, no problem. I would train for two or three days and all of a sudden, I'd be really sick again. I saw five or six doctors in a four-week span, trying to figure out what was wrong.

"It got really frustrating, especially when I had to pull out of four track meets. But I never lost faith that I would be prepared to run this season. I think it was a blessing in disguise. I'm the freshest one on the track this weekend. Hopefully, my times will prove that."

On your mark, get set, go. If Richards holds her ground in the 400 and breaks new ground in the 200 this weekend, the most recognizable face in U.S. women's track and field these days will no doubt have a radiant smile for all of Indianapolis to see.

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